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For want of a thank-you

We need gratitude to stave off barbarism

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An exchange between my daughter and her toddler needing manners formation: “Say thank you.” “Why?” “Because you’ll go further in life.”

I was witnessing a rudimentary instance of the ­transmission of civilization. It is sobering to realize that for want of these infancy moments with our parents, a nation reverts to barbarism.

Speaking of things we wrongly assume to be automatically passed down, have today’s kids heard this one by Benjamin Franklin?

“For want of a nail, the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe, the horse was lost. For want of a horse, the rider was lost. For want of a rider, the battle was lost. For want of a battle, the kingdom was lost. All for the want of a horseshoe nail.” I ask because the other day I used the expression “rare as hen’s teeth” in a sentence, and my son had never heard of it.

Anyway, much is lost in the end for want of teaching “thank you” to tykes. Namely, Christendom. So let us not assume but be diligent.

Penn University law professor Amy Wax made what she thought to be a commonplace point in a Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed in 2017, and unleashed all the wrath of dammed-up barbarism. She commended the ’50s virtues of hard work, temperance, promptness, thrift, and gratitude, saying these would “significantly reduce society’s pathologies.” Herself a Jew, she extolled Anglo-Protestant cultural norms as “superior.” You can’t say things like that anymore, and for saying it Wax now clings to her tenured job by a fingernail.

What is less obvious than the power of “thank you” as the lubricant of social interaction and the way to career advancement is the personal effect it has on the sayer of the words “thank you.” Thank you gives one a peace that grumbling does not, though grumbling ­satisfies for the first five seconds. Consider the truth of this meme I came across: “Before I was a parent I didn’t realize it was possible to ruin someone’s life by cutting their pancake the wrong way.”

The child in this breakfast food incident has not yet learned that saying thank you for the unsatisfactorily dissected pancake rather than carrying on about it would have made her feel better, let alone the parent. It is the business of all children everywhere to come to terms with this law of the universe—that “thank you” helps the giver as much as the receiver. It is the business of parents to see to it.

So let’s practice. The easy thank-you’s to God are for the bullets we have dodged—the boys we wanted who didn’t want us; the cars we didn’t crash while DUI; ­getting fired from Rocky’s. Stuff like that. But then comes the radical gratitude: Thank you for how my hair got thinner so that You trimmed my fleshly pride; thank you that when computers arrived in the ’90s I discovered I have no aptitude in technology, so that You trimmed my fleshly pride. (Most of my thank-you’s for painful experience are for trimming fleshly pride.)

My husband on his deathbed at age 46 said it was good that he was dying because he knew he would have turned away from God again if he had lived.

If you’re looking for a logical reason to be thankful when bad things happen, the best I can do is say life is more complex than you realize, and we not only don’t know how the situation will play out in five years, but even what will happen the next five minutes.

There is a book that my grandson in paragraph 1 enjoys, called That’s Good! That’s Bad! It concerns a boy at the zoo lifted up and away from his parents, who goes on a daylong adventure. The parts that seem good turn out bad, and the parts that seem bad turn out good. In the end he gets back to his father.

As will all God’s children who trust Him. Good ­reason to be thankful.

Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is a senior writer for WORLD Magazine. Her columns have been compiled into three books including Won’t Let You Go Unless You Bless Me. Andrée resides near Philadelphia.


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